Six main issues have been outlined by Action for Children today as key in understanding further the complexity of child neglect. In today’s report, Neglecting the Issue, Action for Children identifies the role of fathers, targeting families, public health and prevention, parental and carers’ views, actively seeking children’s views and understanding the scale of neglect as major gaps to be addressed in helping the 1.5 million UK children currently affected by neglect and preventing further children and families being affected.

Child neglect remains a massive problem throughout the UK with up to one in 10 children being affected. The impact increases dramatically in vulnerable families aiming to cope with a number of health and social care issues. The report, written by the University of Stirling for Action for Children, states that poverty, alcohol and substance misuse, inability to access local family support services and mental health issues are among key factors that can increase child neglect.

A clear, integrated approach is needed to further challenge and solve neglect and today’s recommendations state that investigating these six areas is key to delivering this:

Fathers’ roles: services and advice should be more widely available to offer better support to fathers’ relationships with their children and families. Public opinion backs the idea:

Seven out of 10 (70%) agree, 42% strongly, that society values a child’s relationship with its mother more than it values a child’s relationship with its father

Almost six out of 10 (59%) agree with the statement that society assumes mothers are good for children, fathers have to prove it

Seven out of 10 (70%) agreeing, 50% strongly, that there should be a zero tolerance approach if fathers do not take on their parenting responsibilities (1);

Targeting families: Reviews of Sure Start children’s centres have shown that just one in 10 was not effective, compared to 57% gaining “highly positive” feedback and 32% labelled as “adequate” (2). Many more of these services are needed;

Public health and prevention: Public awareness campaigns have shown to be effective in areas of health and social care. If awareness programmes on child neglect were funded and supported, greater awareness could help reduce and even assist prevention;
Parents and carers’ views: Parents and carers need to be encouraged to seek help without fear of repercussions. Professionals must be trained to communicate better with parents and carers to make them aware of the support available before it is too late;

Children’s views: More must be done to identify ways in which children can be encouraged to ask for help directly. The current picture is unclear, with some young people wanting to approach adults, such as teachers or counsellors for support (3);
Understanding the scale of neglect: We need to be able to see a regular snapshot of the extent of neglect – and the collective response to it – in order to understand if this is getting better or worse.

Action for Children will lead this initiative in the autumn when it publishes its first national annual review of child neglect, comprehensively outlining the issue, causes and proposals to help end neglect.

Dame Clare Tickell, Chief Executive of Action for Children says: “1.5 million neglected children in 2011 is unthinkable but that is the scale of the problem in the UK. Neglect is widespread and still goes unnoticed. We have clear issues to tackle. It is not complicated or difficult. We are all responsible for the problem and we just need to do it or we will see many more families struggling and children being ignored”.

Annie, is just one of the estimated 10% of children who suffer neglect. Now 18, Annie has been neglected by her drug addict parents: “I have three sisters and a brother, but I don’t see the youngest two much as they’ve both been in foster care for years. It was me who reported Mum to social work. I know it’s the best thing for them but I do feel sad about it. Because of our home life I don’t know them and they don’t know me. Our house was never really nice, always needing decorating and repairing. It was hard bringing friends home because of the state of the house and because of my mum and dad. I can remember helping my mum to inject herself when I was about 15. I did it to calm her down and make her feel better. I feel embarrassed about my life. I haven’t felt as important as other people – I feel small and at the bottom of the pile. I pull out my hair and cut my arms with a light bulb if I feel stressed.”


(1) Barnes, M. Bryson, C., & Smith, R. (2006) Working atypical hours, what happens to family life? National Centre for Social Research

(2) Children’s Centres’ outreach is working (2010) 4Children

(3) Bancroft, A., Wilson, S., Cunningham-Burley, S., Backett-Milburn, K and Masters, H. (2004) Parental Drug and Alcohol Misuse: Resilience and Transition among Young People. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation


Action for Children is a national charity delivering services that respond to the local needs of children, young people, their families and communities. Action for Children works with the most vulnerable and neglected children and young people: whose families need support; are in care; who are disabled; who experience severe difficulties in their lives.

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